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    —”There’s no tool as useful yet as tricky to handle as people. So, always keep in mind the possibility of betrayal by those closest to you.”

    As a child, Seojin disliked the theories of human relationships that his grandfather, Chairman Yeong Kyung-taek, almost brainwashed him with. The idea of not trusting anyone and treating them like disposable objects brought him sadness and rebellion.

    However, he had no choice but to follow his grandfather’s words, whether he liked it or not. The years were so long that at some point, he realized he had become even more calculating than anyone else, independent of his grandfather’s commands.

    Despite repeating his grandfather’s teaching that it’s better to live as a cold-hearted scoundrel than to be a fool exploited by others, he always felt uneasy and often suffered from self-loathing…

    “This is no different from hoarding game potions.”

    At this moment, those harsh principles served as a great excuse. After all, categorizing people based on need and securing them in advance is something any wise person would naturally do.

    “What brings our busy young master to see me?”

    As soon as he stepped into the office, a low voice laden with curious amusement settled in Seojin’s ears. However, Cha Do-beom’s eyes, scanning Seojin’s bright face, were cold.

    After parting without even a greeting and then no contact at all, Cha Do-beom seemed to be coldly assessing Seojin’s intentions for visiting him in person.

    “What other reason would an aspiring actor have to visit an entertainment company, if not for a contract?”

    Seojin responded quietly. As if surprised by the unexpected response, one of Cha Do-beom’s eyebrows quirkily rose. ‘Weren’t you so eager to run away from me last week?’ his expression seemed to question, slightly bewildered.

    “Do you intend to sign with Renown as an actor?”

    Cha Do-beom, seemingly amused, slightly curled the corner of his mouth and tilted his head sideways.

    “Not in the way you might be thinking.”

    Seojin nodded slightly and casually responded. Then, with an indifferent gesture, he laid a temporary contract on the table, which he had prepared in advance with the help of a privately hired lawyer.

    The contract was for an unusually short term of just six months, a format far from standard in the industry, blatantly disregarding common practices.

    Moreover, the contract could be terminated at any time without any hassle, making it immediately apparent to anyone that it was merely a nominal agreement.

    “Hmm… If I were to accept this absurd contract, what would our young master do for me?”

    After quickly scanning the unreasonable clauses, Cha Do-beom leaned slightly towards Seojin and prodded for a quid pro quo in a suggestive tone.

    “What do you want?”

    “You talk as if you’d agree to anything I ask.”

    “I’m willing to at least hear what you’re proposing.”

    Seojin responded with an indifferent tone, as if he had nothing to lose, while inwardly he sighed. No matter how composed he tried to appear, it was clear that he was the one more eager for the contract. This was an undeniable fact from the moment he had prepared the contract and sought out this meeting.

    But it didn’t matter. He had a trump card to shake the other party. The crucial thing was when to play it.

    “Maybe we should start by changing how you address me, young master. ‘That side’ is too stiff, don’t you think?”

    “…Would ‘President’ suffice for you?”

    “Try changing your tone to something cuter. More fluttery, more tender.”

    The intimidatingly large man Seojin had chosen as his insurance card softened his fierce gaze, adopting a smile and a friendly demeanor as he requested a more affectionate tone.

    Cha Do-beom, who had casually crossed his legs, slightly twitched one foot in an unpleasant rhythm. Seojin deliberately narrowed his brows slightly, like a high jumper lowering his center of gravity before the leap.

    “Is that by chance a command?”

    Cha Do-beom shrugged lightly at Seojin’s quietly asked question.

    “Depends on how desperate our young master is, doesn’t it?”

    To anyone observing, this was nothing short of relentless taunting, an unspoken pressure to bow and enter first. His refusal to inquire about the reasons for wanting the contract exuded the aroma of a seasoned businessman.

    “Let’s say it’s more of an opportunity than a command. I’m offering you a chance to please me.”

    “And here I thought you liked it. That’s disappointing.”

    Cha Do-beom let out a small laugh at Seojin’s monotonous quip, not bothering to feign sincerity in his expression. His unadorned response seemed amusingly refreshing to Cha Do-beom.

    “You look too innocent today, young master. I prefer the sexy type.”

    But Cha Do-beom’s teasing words still carried an undertone of urging Seojin to adapt to his preferences. Whether sincere or for taming purposes, it was a subtle demand for compliance from Seojin.

    “I’ll have to be careful not to unintentionally appeal in that direction then.”

    Of course, Seojin had no intention of submitting. Taking such a stance would mean being manipulated by Cha Do-beom’s pace if the contract were to be agreed upon, a gloomy future he didn’t need to volunteer for.

    “Wouldn’t it be better for you to appeal more aggressively if you really want to sign with me?”

    “Isn’t that something only power-abusing sexual offenders would demand?”

    “Our young master really knows how to scare someone with words.”

    Eventually, Cha Do-beom showed a light surrender by raising his hands, as if declaring defeat. However, his smirking face still seemed confident that he held the upper hand.

    “Shouldn’t you start by explaining what happened at the hotel if you really want this contract? Any entertainment company president would drool over the young master’s face, wouldn’t they?” he added quietly, his words dripping with ease despite the compliment. He then continued, “How many presidents would take on an actor with the risk of illness? Right?”

    Cha Do-beom, who had been quite shaken to the point of increasing his favorability several times upon seeing Seojin unwell that day, now skillfully dug in with cold words at the business table.

    “I have no physical issues.”

    Anticipating such a question, Seojin calmly presented a comprehensive medical report from a month ago. Cha Do-beom merely glanced at the medical chart on the table and snickered.

    “So it’s a mental issue, which could be even more dangerous, don’t you think?”

    “According to psychiatric opinion, I’m not the type to harm others.”

    “Hmm, but would the public think the same if they found out about an illness? What if that fact leaks?”

    “Fortunately, there’s no record left in the system. And doesn’t Renown Entertainment have a PR team?”

    Seojin retorted brazenly, as if he didn’t consider his condition a weakness.

    “Even if it becomes hard to hide, it could be spun as a medal earned from over-immersing in roles.”

    “Well, there are plenty of ways to package it. I’m just not sure yet if our young master is a valuable enough asset for my company to make such an effort.”

    “That’s why I’m suggesting we start with a short-term contract.”

    “Your confidence is intriguing, making this all the more enticing. But, have you gotten your grandfather’s permission for this?”

    At the end of what seemed like a smooth-flowing conversation, Cha Do-beom brought up the inevitable conflict between grandson and grandfather regarding career choices, treating Seojin as if he were a delicate flower in a greenhouse, with an infuriatingly gentle tone.

    However, Seojin neither became anxious nor angry. With a slight smile, he lifted a glass of water from the table, as if suddenly feeling thirsty.

    —”Why do you drink so mych water?”

    Before the regression, Cha Do-beom had once caught Seojin’s unique pre-swallowing habit by chance and had aggressively pressed him about it, finding it overly peculiar. He had interrogated Seojin, leading to frequent clashes between them, with Seojin bewildered by the attention.

    Yet, Cha Do-beom couldn’t let go of his inexplicable interest and began to pay even closer attention to Seojin’s every move. Persistently and with various excuses, he kept finding reasons to approach Seojin.

    Hoping for a similar reaction this time, Seojin gently rotated the glass he had lifted. Then, he took a slow sip, sealed his lips tightly, and rolled the water around the empty space inside his cheeks with his tongue.

    It was akin to the actions of someone tasting fine wine. While there was no outwardly strange indication or distinctive sound, Cha Do-beom’s keen hearing would undoubtedly pick up on that subtle noise.

    “…Young master, is your tongue feeling bored?”

    As expected, Cha Do-beom, who had been maintaining a relaxed expression, suddenly turned stern and spoke sharply. Pleased that things were going as planned, Seojin feigned ignorance with a blink of his eyes.

    Noticing the changed atmosphere and swallowing the water quickly as if startled, Seojin looked puzzled. Then, Cha Do-beom suddenly leaned forward, bringing his face close enough for their breaths to mingle.

    “Shall I make sure your tongue isn’t bored?”

    Just like a day before the regression when Cha Do-beom had witnessed a similar behavior from Seojin.

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